Truman relieves MacArthur of duties in Korea - HISTORY
Year
1951

Truman relieves MacArthur of duties in Korea

In perhaps the most famous civilian-military confrontation in the history of the United States, President Harry S. Truman relieves General Douglas MacArthur of command of the U.S. forces in Korea. The firing of MacArthur set off a brief uproar among the American public, but Truman remained committed to keeping the conflict in Korea a “limited war.”

Problems with the flamboyant and egotistical General MacArthur had been brewing for months. In the early days of the war in Korea (which began in June 1950), the general had devised some brilliant strategies and military maneuvers that helped save South Korea from falling to the invading forces of communist North Korea. As U.S. and United Nations forces turned the tide of battle in Korea, MacArthur argued for a policy of pushing into North Korea to completely defeat the communist forces. Truman went along with this plan, but worried that the communist government of the People’s Republic of China might take the invasion as a hostile act and intervene in the conflict. In October 1950, MacArthur met with Truman and assured him that the chances of a Chinese intervention were slim. Then, in November and December 1950, hundreds of thousands of Chinese troops crossed into North Korea and flung themselves against the American lines, driving the U.S. troops back into South Korea. MacArthur then asked for permission to bomb communist China and use Nationalist Chinese forces from Taiwan against the People’s Republic of China. Truman flatly refused these requests and a very public argument began to develop between the two men.

In April 1951, President Truman fired MacArthur and replaced him with Gen. Matthew Ridgeway. On April 11, Truman addressed the nation and explained his actions. He began by defending his overall policy in Korea, declaring, “It is right for us to be in Korea.” He excoriated the “communists in the Kremlin [who] are engaged in a monstrous conspiracy to stamp out freedom all over the world.” Nevertheless, he explained, it “would be wrong—tragically wrong—for us to take the initiative in extending the war… Our aim is to avoid the spread of the conflict.” The president continued, “I believe that we must try to limit the war to Korea for these vital reasons: To make sure that the precious lives of our fighting men are not wasted; to see that the security of our country and the free world is not needlessly jeopardized; and to prevent a third world war.” General MacArthur had been fired “so that there would be no doubt or confusion as to the real purpose and aim of our policy.”

MacArthur returned to the United States to a hero’s welcome. Parades were held in his honor, and he was asked to speak before Congress (where he gave his famous “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away” speech). Public opinion was strongly against Truman’s actions, but the president stuck to his decision without regret or apology. Eventually, MacArthur did “just fade away,” and the American people began to understand that his policies and recommendations might have led to a massively expanded war in Asia. Though the concept of a “limited war,” as opposed to the traditional American policy of unconditional victory, was new and initially unsettling to many Americans, the idea came to define the U.S. Cold War military strategy.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Idi Amin overthrown

On April 11, 1979, Ugandan dictator Idi Amin flees the Ugandan capital of Kampala as Tanzanian troops and forces of the Uganda National Liberation Front close in. Two days later, Kampala fell and a coalition government of former exiles took power.Amin, chief of the Ugandan army ...read more

Apollo 13 launched to moon

On April 11, 1970, Apollo 13, the third lunar landing mission, is successfully launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, carrying astronauts James A. Lovell, John L. Swigert, and Fred W. Haise. The spacecraft’s destination was the Fra Mauro highlands of the moon, where the ...read more

Henry Ford marries

On this day in 1888, 24-year-old Henry Ford marries Clara Jane Bryant on her 22nd birthday at her parent’s home in Greenfield Township, Michigan. Clara Ford would prove to be a big supporter of her husband’s business ideas: Fifty years later, Henry Ford–who by then had founded ...read more

Napoleon exiled to Elba

On this day in 1814, Napoleon Bonaparte, emperor of France and one of the greatest military leaders in history, abdicates the throne, and, in the Treaty of Fontainebleau, is banished to the Mediterranean island of Elba.The future emperor was born in Ajaccio, Corsica, on August ...read more

International Labor Organization founded

On this day in 1919, in Paris, France, the International Labor Organization (ILO) is founded as an independent, affiliated agency of the League of Nations. The call for just and equal labor standards and improved working and living conditions for the world’s workers had begun to ...read more

Troops from Hawaii sent to South Vietnam

One hundred U.S. troops of the Hawaiian-based 25th Infantry Division are ordered to temporary duty with military units in South Vietnam to serve as machine gunners aboard Army H-21 helicopters. This was the first commitment of American combat troops to the war and represented a ...read more

B-52s strike North Vietnamese positions

On this day, B-52 strikes against communist forces attacking South Vietnamese positions in the Central Highlands near Kontum remove any immediate threat to that city. Air strikes against North Vietnam continued, but were hampered by poor weather. Also on this day, the Pentagon ...read more

Phil Mickelson wins first major at Masters

On this day in 2004, Phil Mickelson wins the Masters Golf Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club, his first major championship in nearly 12 years as a professional golfer.A native of California, Mickelson graduated from Arizona State University, where he won three NCAA ...read more

Talleyrand offers to sell Louisiana

In one of the great surprises in diplomatic history, French Foreign Minister Charles Maurice de Talleyrand makes an offer to sell all of Louisiana Territory to the United States.Talleyrand was no fool. As the foreign minister to French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, he was one of ...read more

Cher wins Best Actress Oscar for Moonstruck

On this day in 1988, at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, the actress and singer Cher collects the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in Moonstruck (1988).Cherilyn Sarkasian, who was born on May 20, 1946, first became famous as the taller, female half of the ...read more

Last survivors of ferry accident rescued

Rescue workers pick up the last survivors of the Wahine ferry accident on this day in 1968. The ferry had capsized after hitting sharp rocks off the coast of Wellington, New Zealand, the previous day. Fifty-one of the more than 800 passengers and crew on board perished in the ...read more

War is narrowly averted

While visiting Marathon, Greece, Lord Muncaster of Britain is kidnapped by brigands, almost resulting in war. The pirates, led by Takos Arvanitakis, were experienced in kidnapping and had used it as a lucrative source of income for many years. However, their capture of Lord ...read more

Confederates surrender Fort Pulaski

The Confederates surrender Fort Pulaski, guarding the mouth of the Savannah River in Georgia, after a two-day Union bombardment tears great holes in the massive fort.Fort Pulaski was constructed in 1847 as part of the country’s coastal defense network. The imposing masonry ...read more